Water management is an ongoing challenge in Georgia.
Severe droughts occur every 40 years or so, but the increase in population and industrialization has made matters worse. Recent court rulings require that we take serious measures to save water for our neighbors who live downstream. It reminds me of a Frederic Remington painting, "Fight for the Water Hole." It depicts a small group of cowboys defending a nearly empty water hole in the desert. They are lying on their bellies and aiming rifles at an unseen group of marauders, ready to kill or be killed.
Jesus lived in a region even more arid than Georgia. For his people, the scarcity of water was truly a limiting factor. Water was a big part of their celebration at the Festival of Booths. It was in the desert region of Jerusalem, at the Festival of Booths, when Jesus spoke of water in a new way. "On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" (John 7:37-38).
Words like this hardly suggest a water shortage. Jesus did not invite a few friends to share a cup of water from a stagnant well. He invited everyone within earshot to come and drink deeply from a never-ending source of fresh, living water. He promised not just enough water, but an abundance of water, rivers of living water emanating from the hearts of believers.
Jesus was not talking literally about water, of course, but he was talking literally about abundance. When it comes to spiritual sustenance, there is enough to go around. When it comes to living water, we need not look for another source, much less defend the water hole from others who are thirsty. Abundance is a motif repeated often in the Gospel of John (e.g., the wedding at Cana, where water turned to wine was not only in great quantity, but of highest quality). When we imagine the Kingdom of God, we must use the word "plenty".
Sometimes we operate our churches with an attitude of scarcity which belies God's abundance. We compete for resources as if God's economy were characterized by deprivation. We compete for members as if stealing sheep somehow encouraged other sheep to join the fold. We receive the living water, then hold onto it without sharing until it becomes a stagnant pool unfit to drink.
The word that describes this condition is not scarcity, for scarcity in this case is imagined. The correct word is faithlessness. It is faithlessness which creates scarcity, while faithfulness creates abundance. "Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water." God touches the believer's heart and opens a floodgate of compassion to irrigate the driest landscape of hopelessness.
This summer we know that the weather will be dry and hot. It is time to conserve our water to get through the drought. The summer months are often a time of financial drought for our churches as well. But this need not be the case. Our faithfulness can keep the rivers of living water flowing, so that everyone who thirsts can drink from Jesus, the abundant source of life. Let us not fail in our task of continuing vital ministry in the days ahead.
Brian Dale is pastor of Allen Memorial Methodist Church in Oxford.
Editor's Note: Pastor Brian Dale has been reassigned by the church, and this is his last column for The Covington News. The News wishes him the best in his future endeavours.